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Monday, April 18, 2016

Jonathan Odell, Strength in Openness

Last night, I got to hear Jonathan Odell speak, ostensibly about his books, but really about his life, and through this very specific details, (of course) about life in general. He was funny--like when he spoke of moving to Minnesota not aware that he had a drinking problem, and lucking out, because he had moved to "the land of 10,000 rehab centers." 

Jon's mother.
He was full of wisdom about dealing with crazy families--not that he preached, but there was a lot to learn from the honest, open way he spoke of what he did right and what he did wrong as he was forced to uncover the pain that had led to his drinking. In fact, he reminded me of a deep conversation I once had with Pat Conroy about the same subject. Mr. Odell spoke honestly about both his gifts and mistakes as a business person and his struggles to uncover what really mattered to him.

I was deeply moved by Mr. Odell's stories: about outer success and inner death, about struggling to lose those outward trappings and find his soul, about walking away from his business to try to uncover the person he might have become had his world--his culture, his parents, his religion--been able to nurture who he really was.  I gained wisdom from his humility about his learning curve as a writer and speaker, and as someone who has worked hard to become an expert on race and an activist fighting against bigotry. 

Later, I thought: wow, how powerful he is to be completely vulnerable that way. There he stood, a castle with no walls and no drawbridge--precisely what gives him such great power. How could someone attack him? What could they say that he hasn't already told us, and that he clearly accepts so wholeheartedly about himself? 

Still later, I thought: How grateful I am that we live in a pocket of time in a pocket of the world where this great openness can be profound strength; that we do live not in other parts of the world, like Uganda, where such openness could get him killed. 

Our freedoms are so precious. Really, I should call them our liberties, because they are not free. We must guard them and protect them, the way that Mr. Odell so actively does. 

Lucky me to hear him speak. 

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